Sports Psychology is the science that introduces the athlete to the awareness of the mind/body connection, as one without the other leads to underperformance when comparing to their true potential. It delves into the psychological factors that affect performance and reviews how the athletes are currently performing and their perceptions surrounding their experiences when competing in their chosen sport. It provides cognitive and behavioural strategies to help the athletes to cope, focus and reduce the stress of self-expected performance.
Its origins date back as far as 1898 when psychologist, Norman Triplett, exclusively studied the performance of cyclists when performing as an individual compared to when in a group setting. It was developed further in the 1920’s when the credited founder of sports psychology, psychologist Coleman Roberts Griffith, produced a number of books and articles across multiple sports and the first sports laboratory in Europe being founded by Carl Diem in Berlin.
The main areas of focus where the Sports Psychologist excels at are in the areas of:
1. Performance enhancement: This is the in-depth look into the Athletes beliefs, values, thought patterns and the implementation of strategies such as Relaxation techniques, visualization and positive thinking which helps to overcome any mental blockages.
2. Competitive support: This involves experiencing different coping techniques for the athletes to use under the pressures of competition and high stress situations.
3. Relationships: Looks at strategies that optimise the relationships of each athlete.
4. Motivation: Helping to increase the athlete’s motivation levels to achieve their goals.
5. Injury recovery: Mental strategies can help the athlete to remain focused and positive when in a time of pain and self-doubt.
The Sports Psychologist will optimise an athlete to perform at their true potential when faced with the stresses of the toughest competitions with a look at all aspects of their experience through each of the five headings.
Do you perform to your best when feeling the pressures of competition?
If so, great, you have implemented self-managing techniques to reduce the shaky hands, distractions and self-pressures that we place on ourselves through expectation, but, if you do not perform well, you will now be aware of the mental side of performance and the dedication that the top athletes go through to prepare themselves to gain that edge over competitors.
To give you an idea of what is involved, I will give you an example of someone who I have worked with and the process we went through. Everybody that comes to me is treated as a blank canvas, regardless of their skill level and ability. This takes away any perceived expectations that may have been formed through the initial conversation and also gives a base and process that pinpoints the key areas for improvement. This will be golf related but the principles can be applied to all sports as the subject matter remains the same.
A friend of mine who is a very good golfer had plateaued and was just frustrated with his golf game to the point that he was making excuses not to play. We had a chat and it was evident from his use of language that there was no confidence or belief in his ability to achieve the goals he had set out. There is a great quote from Henry Ford that highlights the power of thought.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” ― Henry Ford.
Henry knew the power of the mind and that the only thing that was standing in the way of him achieving his goals was time.
The Player had set good goals but was lacking the self-motivation to achieve them and had no accountability along the way to help drive them. Having played a lot of games with him before, I knew that they had a fixed mind-set, closed to other possibilities but one of the days there was a shift and he began asking questions on mental focus. The one thing that you can change immediately and have a positive impact on your results is Attitude.
We discussed the game from his perspective (Performance profile) and worked on a few strategies for mental focus, relaxation, beliefs and thought pattern awareness so he could notice the negative thoughts. He brought up about not having the time to play full rounds with work and other commitments which is where we introduced IMAGERY – one of the most powerful preparation techniques that has been scientifically proven to increase performance by experiencing the arousals of the event beforehand.
I asked him a question that questioned his beliefs. This was from “play your best golf now”. On your course, if you reviewed all your previous rounds, have you birdied every hole? He said yes. I then asked, so what is stopping you from birding them all during the one round? The response received showed a lot of limiting beliefs which we could then work on strategies to overcome.
We discussed what pressure actually was and worked on techniques to reduce its impact making it a positive thing. Rather than being worried and focused on the results, I introduced a process-based approach. We covered “Pin prick” aim which settles the mind, body, feelings and emotions, by being present and connected to the task. Tension, pressure and outcome became a distant thought as the mind and heart connection was created. The fear of losing was dissipated as we cannot grow if we have nothing to teach us, you either win or learn. Losing can be a powerful tool when critically self-analysing how you performed in managing yourself. This self-analysis will help guide you to the exact tools you need to implement in managing yourself during time of high stress.
The end result was a winner’s attitude, joy and a resurrected love for the game, the scores he thought were unachievable are now being surpassed and the skills have had a lasting affect not only on his golf game but in everyday life as many of the skills are transferable.